Starting with 'eastern bastards' remark, Notley wins over Calgary business crowd

Two years after struggling through a speech in front of an awkwardly silent business crowd, Rachel Notley stood before the Calgary Chamber again on Friday and opened with a joke.

Premier's 2015 speech greeted by awkward silence, while 2017 edition received rounds of applause

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley received an icy reception, left, when she addressed the Calgary Chamber in 2015. Two years later, Notley was all smiles as she earned a standing ovation at the end of her speech to the same group. (CBC)

Two years after struggling through a speech in front of an awkwardly silent business crowd, Rachel Notley stood before the Calgary Chamber again on Friday and opened with a joke.

"I spent the earlier part of the week out in Ontario — you know, the home of those eastern bastards," Alberta's NDP premier said.

She paused briefly for the laughter and carried on.

"No, of course I'm not referring to the very fine people who call that part of the country home," Notley clarified.

"I am, of course, referring to those soon-to-be-trampled Toronto Argonauts."

The Calgary Stampeders take on the Argos for the Grey Cup on Sunday, and the premier's football reference drew the first round of applause from the audience during her 33-minute speech.

There would be 11 more, including a standing ovation at the end.

Audience members give Alberta Premier Rachel Notley a standing ovation after her address to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Friday. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

The mood in the room was markedly different from 2015, when oil prices were in the midst of a free fall and Notley was busy trying to explain why her newly elected NDP government was going ahead with a controversial royalty review. 

On Friday, by contrast, oil had just hit a two-year high, and Notley began her speech by detailing the various economic indicators showing how Alberta economy's has returned to growth, after two long years of recession.

But the bulk of the premier's talk focused on her current efforts to promote Alberta's energy industry — and the need for pipelines, in particular — to the rest of the country.

That's where she found most of the applause, in response to lines like these:

  • "We need a Canadian pipeline built to a Canadian coast."
  • "I reminded those folks out east that there is not a school, not a hospital, not a road, not a bus station and not a port ... that doesn't owe something to a strong Alberta energy industry."
  • "To my political colleagues in the federal NDP, I said: You can't write working people and their jobs out of climate action. You need to start writing them in, so please, smarten up."
  • "To the federal Liberals I said, and I say again today: You have to step up."
  • "The NEB's decision to include downstream emissions in evaluating pipeline proposals — like with Energy East — was an historic overreach, something that no other industry is subject. It should not, it cannot be a precedent in the future."

Speaking to reporters afterward, United Conservative Party MLA Ric McIver praised parts of Notley's speech.

"I would say, in all fairness, the premier delivered a nice speech today and she did a good job of it, and she got a better reaction this year," McIver said.

"She sounded a lot more like Jason Kenney or like a UCP member when she got the applause," he quickly added.

"She actually talked about the overreach of the National Energy Board, something she has taken from Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party's playbook."

United Conservative Party MLA Ric McIver speaks to reporters after Premier Rachel Notley's speech to the Calgary Chamber. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

McIver also said he doesn't trust Notley's position on pipelines, describing it as one she's only come to recently.

"The fact is the premier has a long track record of trashing out the energy industry, her members of her caucus actually protesting against the energy industry," he said.

Asked how he and his party would deal with resistance to pipelines in other parts of Canada, McIver said they'd take a slightly more aggressive approach, if they were in government.

"We would probably be a little more firm in talking to the federal government and the other provinces," he said.